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Celebrating Mardi Gras with some Pacific Northwest beers

As I’m writing this and looking out the window at the snow, I’m thinking about how it is most likely not snowing in New Orleans right now.

However, I love the snow (I’m even a bit jealous of those on the East coast) and I’m happy to enjoy my Fat Tuesday in the snowy, cold Midwest.

It was not too many years ago that we had a great Fat Tuesday celebration right here in Elkhart County at Mad Mad Anthony’s Old State Ale House. Since they closed that location, there hasn’t been too much to choose from. Over the past couple of years, I have arrived at The Constant Spring in costume only to find blank stares.

Maybe this far north there just isn’t the interest, but there were at least couple of viable options for some celebration and New Orleans cuisine this year, including the three remaining Mad Anthony locations and LaSalle Grill in South Bend.

I would have preferred to be at Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids on Tuesday for the tapping of its Fat Paczki (7.5 percent ABV), but instead I stayed local.

In celebration of Fat Tuesday, Brewery Vivant released (only at the brewery in Grand Rapids, Mich.) Fat Paczki brewed with prunes, powdered sugar…and actual paczki, which were added to the mash.

Paczki are traditional Polish pastries filled with jelly, eaten on Fat Tuesday before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. 

I am not an expert on paczki by any means, but I picked up some apricot paczki at Martin’s Supermarket, grabbed a couple of bottles from my cellar and headed out to surprise some buddies.

The first beer that came to mind that I thought would pair well with those jelly paczki was Deschutes The Abyss (11 percent ABV, IBUs 86). Since Deschutes began distribution in Michigan recently, I was able to pick up one of these limited release imperial stouts.

This year’s version was brewed with blackstrap molasses, brewer’s licorice, vanilla beans and cherry bark, with 6 percent of the batch aged in oak bourbon barrels, 11 percent aged in oak barrels and 11 percent aged in oak Pinot Noir barrels.

It poured a very dark black with wonderful aromas of coffee, chocolate, alcohol and hints of cherry, oak and bourbon. The flavor was quite complex with sweetness from the molasses and malt, but not overly so.

Other flavors of bourbon, vanilla, fruit and coffee mingled with bitter chocolate and hops. It was full bodied with a good mouth feel and just a touch of booziness. It paired perfectly with my jelly paczki.

Trickster IPA (6.9 percent ABV, IBUs 70) from Black Raven Brewing Company in Redmond, Wash., was the other West Coast beer that I chose to enjoy with our paczki.

Being a full-flavored IPA, it is on the other end of the spectrum from an imperial stout. I gave it a fairly aggressive pour, which produces a frothy two-finger head that stuck around for quite a while.

The aroma had a nice balance between bready malt and citrusy, piney hops. The flavor followed pretty closely with a nice dank citrusy, piney hop flavor up front, followed by bready malt sweetness, and finished with a slightly dry bitter hop. Overall, a very nice version of this style.

Unfortunately, it was a gift from a friend and not available locally.  

Here are a couple of other beers that I have recently enjoyed.

I first became acquainted with Pretty Things Ale and Beer Project a few years ago while visiting family near Boston.

Within the past year or so, Pretty Things entered distribution in Indiana, and one of its beers that I really enjoy is Fluffy White Rabbits (Belgian Tripel, 8.5 percent ABV, IBUs 50). Because this is a hoppy tripel, my bottle from 2012 was probably not meant to be cellared this long.

However, the label reads, “Springtime arrives in Boston with a flourish, like our jaunty caravan of rabbits.” Anyone currently living near Boston knows only too well that it is not springtime in Boston yet. With that in mind, I guess it was appropriate to drink my out-of-date hoppy tripel this past weekend in a Michigan snow storm.

It did, however, hold up quite well over time, and even though the flavor had probably changed quite a bit from what the brewer had intended, it was quite tasty.

The hops had faded significantly, but there was plenty of candy sugar, fruit and Belgain yeast funk in the flavor. I’m looking forward to a fresh bottle sometime this spring.  

Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery brews some pretty phenomenal beers, and thanks to a buddy of mine in Cleveland, I was able to enjoy a very limited release from them.

Mahogany Lush is a sour brown ale aged in oak barrels with cherries and raspberries. I have said this before, but sour/wild ales are an acquired taste. Once you acquire that taste, though, a whole new world opens up on your palate.

It was both sweet and sour with a fruity sweetness up front, followed by a nice sourness and some oak and vanilla.

More and more sour/wild ales are showing up on shelves in Michiana. If you are interested, check with the craft beer specialist at your local bottle shop to point you in the right direction.

Did you miss out on Hopslam this year? Well, not yet you didn’t. This Thursday, Feb. 19, the Constant Spring will tap its keg of Hopslam starting at 4 p.m. A rep will be on hand to pass out swag, so don’t miss out.

For more Michiana beer news and commentary from Eric Strader, subscribe to the Hop Notes email newsletter.

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